Good To Great

Well I finished reading Jim Collins epic leadership book Good To Great again. As someone who likes to delve into the leadership theory and practice world I have found this book incredible and very well written. I would imagine that it would be especially helpful not just to business leaders but also to church leaders, particularly church planters. Since there was so much good content in this book I do not want to just throw it back on the shelf but will instead spend some time writing about it, doing so often helps me retain and further wrestle with good principles and insights. So I am going to blog through the book a little bit and hope to foster some good conversation on the concepts that Collins presents. Here is my first installment, which well tell what the book is about and the first trait he sees to be essential to great leadership.

Author Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great sets out to uncover just what exactly are the principles and ideas that propel a company to be great for a sustained amount of time. His book is not about looking at companies that just happened to stumble into a timely swing of the market, like the late nineties dot-com boom, but companies that, in spite of external forces and economic factors, still thrived. Jim Collins is not just writing about his opinions and what he thinks are the reasons for companies being great. Rather, he is an incredibly dedicated researcher, spending over five years uncovering the findings for what makes a company succeed over the long haul. What might make his book even more compelling and adept at being applicable to ministry is that the majority of his findings are counter cultural and greatly differ from the personality driven leadership model that is so often assumed in American culture. Though Good to Great is written in regards to what makes a successful corporation and one must be careful in transposing all principles onto church leadership, there is a wealth of wisdom that church leaders could learn from and implement that would allow our ministries to grow and endure.

Good to Great begins with laying down the leadership gauntlet and challenging many of the stereotypes that exist about leadership today. Dr. Collins argues that for organizations to make the transition from good to great they must have, what he calls “Level 5 Leadership” (20). The quote by President Truman at the beginning of chapter two grasps the idea of Level 5 Leadership, “You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit” (17). This is not to say that leaders must be egoless, but rather they channel their ambition into the success and accomplishment of the organization rather then themselves. Level 5 Leadership is marked by two characteristics –humility and a determined will. Contrary to popular opinion today, great leadership is not defined as individuals with gregarious personalities and larger than life talents. Personality and talent driven leaders can at best only lead a company to a period of greatness (26). Instead it is the leader who practices modesty and is more concerned with renown of their company who will do a better job at forging a company into sustainable greatness. These leaders are also marked by their resolve to achieve success and results for the company. It is important to note here, that often personality leaders often share this same goal, but what ends up happening is that, at times, the goal of seeing the company thrive may be at odds with a their desire for personal credit and notoriety. Level 5 Leaders are tenaciously committed to seeing the organization do well and prosper long after they are gone. This type of leadership is truly the foundation for any company wanting to make the leap to greatness.
A Level 5 Leader realizes that no matter how talented he or she may be, the success of the company will start with having the right people in the right positions and getting rid of the wrong people. In fact, getting the right people must even come before deciding the mission. Dr. Collins uses an analogy to communicate this, “They first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it” (40). The right people are so imperative that finding them must take precedent over all else. So who are the right people? Dr. Collins defines them as people with a bent toward excellence wired into who they are. Regardless of circumstance, role, or even compensation, these people want to achieve and do their best. In short, these are people with great character, personal responsibility, and a strong work ethic (51). Companies that achieve greatness have Level 5 Leaders who recognize that the company cannot be defined by one person and their excellence; if so, then success will only last as long as the leader. Long term greatness reflects a group of people who are competent and have upright character.